The World Cup, a dream revenge for Qatar

It’s a little music that we hear a lot in Qatar. “You know, everything is new here. Before the 1960s, Qatar was nothing, just an inhospitable commercial stage, where people stopped to buy before leaving. Look where we were thirty years ago, where we are now! And imagine where we will be in thirty years! », gets carried away by a relative of the emirate in Doha.

The legend of the “Qatari miracle” is not without foundation. And a whole national narrative is there to remind us that the gas microstate and its citizens started from scratch. This is even the meaning of a large part of the National Museum, this majestic rose of the sands imagined by the French architect Jean Nouvel and inaugurated in 2019 in the midst of a crisis with the neighboring countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The trauma of the “Ramadan blockade”

Long before the oil boom, Qataris derived their income from fishing and the pearl trade, as elsewhere in the Gulf. A whole cult is dedicated to jazwasthese hardworking fishermen who ensured a first influence for Qataris in the world, until they were swept away by competition from Japanese cultured pearls, before the First World War. “Even though they killed our pearl industry, we don’t hold a grudge, since our first gas exports went to Japan,” the museum guide is having fun.

The 1930s and 1940s were marked by destitution. Famine strikes and the port of Al Bida, from which the capital Doha developed, has no electricity. The renaissance is looming with the discovery and exploitation of oil and gas from 1971. The state is barely larger than Île-de-France, but the authorities are launching a policy of unbridled modernization. In 2008, the national strategy “Qatar National Vision 2030” aims to make the emirate “an advanced society” around three pillars (education, culture and sports) to overcome its image as a rentier state. A huge screen in the museum traces all the great achievements of the last 50 years and the accelerated urbanization of Doha.

This is when the “blockade of Ramadan” occurs. The trauma of June 5, 2017, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates decreed an air, land and sea embargo on the small emirate, remains in everyone’s mind. The discourse today is about reconciliation since the non-aggression pact signed in January 2021, after forty-three months of blockade, by the Emir Sheikh Tamim and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “It was a problem between governments. We knew it was going to pass. Our peoples have never hated each other,” assures a Qatari visitor to the museum.

“Regional jealousy”

But on the political side, there floats, if not a scent of revenge, a desire to show that we did not let ourselves be done. Doha does not miss an opportunity to recall that it has not yielded to any of the thirteen conditions set by Riyadh to lift its blockade: neither the severance of diplomatic relations with Tehran, nor the expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood from its territory, nor the stop broadcasting the Al Jazeera television channel.

“There is no revenge. You need revenge when you are victimized. But we think we came out with our heads held high. Everyone who has followed the blockade has seen that Qatar has shown its unity and economic resilience during this crisis,” ensures to The cross Majid Al Ansari, spokesman for Qatari diplomacy in Doha. However, he deplores the“animosity that has developed against Qatar since obtaining the World in 2010,maintained by certain circles and countries, out of regional jealousy”.

The World Cup, a dream revenge for Qatar

On September 9, two and a half months before the start of the competition, the organization in the capital of the final of the Lusail Cup was not only intended as a dress rehearsal. The meeting, which opposed a sold-out crowd (77,000 seats) the Saudi club Al Hilal to the Egyptian Zamalek, also had the air of a demonstration with regard to the neighbors who had crossed the border.

“There were Saudis everywhere, welcomes Fahad, a young Qatari who came to watch the match, which ended with Al Hilal’s victory on penalties. You spot them by the way they wear their thawb (white tunic, Editor’s note)their ghutra (scarf, editor’s note) and their equal (black cord, Editor’s note). Like a game of seven differences. »

This desire to exist with regard to the power of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and all the countries bordering the Persian Gulf is found on the international scale, where Qatar’s ambitions are inversely proportional to its size. “Our size is actually a big advantage because we learn from everyone,” believes a close to power, while acknowledging that the Qataris are also “looked down on”.

“Why should we be afraid of our friends? »

Qatar sometimes plays the tightrope walker. It considers Iran, a touchy neighbor on the other side of the Persian Gulf, as a partner, while hosting the largest American military base in the Middle East ! And for good reason, Qatar and Iran share the exploitation of the enormous South Pars/North Dome underwater gas field. “We have had very good relations for a long time with Iran. Why should we be afraid of our friends? They came to our rescue before anyone else.”slips a close to power.

On the diplomatic level, Qatar has tried to establish itself as a mediator in several regional conflicts. He succeeded in Afghanistan, between the United States and the Taliban, an issue on which Doha has been described as “strategic ally country” by Washington. “The Emir sees Qatar as a mediator between the two. We are acceptable to all parties, United States, Europeans, Iranians…”, adds our interlocutor. Since 2008, the emirate has also participated in peace negotiation efforts in Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan and Chad.

Sport has also become a means of existing and of rising to the table of the greats. This dimension completes classical diplomacy. Purchase of clubs – including Paris Saint-Germain –, organization of major sporting events, such as the Asian Games in 2006 (and again in 2030), Asian Football Cup in 2023, training of future champions, sports audiovisual policy with the giant BeIN… The World Cup will be a kind of apogee.

“Prejudices and misconceptions”

This activism makes the country all the less sympathetic towards criticism – deaths of many workers in the context of infrastructure works, environmental impact of the event, conditions for awarding the tournament, calls for a boycott… – to the approach of the kick-off on November 20. Qatar denounces pell-mell regional jealousies as well as Western prejudices and misunderstandings, which would go as far as Islamophobia.

“We have heard a lot of criticism since the World Cup was awarded in 2010. Many of them are unfair and difficult to take, said Nasser Al Khater, chairman of the Supreme World Cup Organizing Committee. We knew the campaigns would intensify as the date approached, mais nWe had not anticipated their scope and ferocity. Many point above all to prejudices and misconceptions about Qatar, and the whole region. »

The country does not intend to stop there. “How far will they go? Send someone to the moon maybe,” quips a regular. The emirate, caught in a regional one-upmanship which was again recently manifested by the awarding of the Asian Winter Games in 2029 to Saudi Arabia, is eyeing the 2036 Olympics.

Qatar knows that it has a sizeable economic asset to develop its diplomacy: its gas reserves, the third largest in the world. This assurance coexists with a false modesty, summarized by the spokesperson for diplomacy: “We are sometimes too small for our ambitions. »


A haven for Islamists

Qatar often presents itself in “refuge of the oppressed”as the Emir Sheikh Tamim recalled when he came to power in 2013: “We will remain true to this promise of support for those affected. »

De facto, the country has mainly welcomed Islamist militants hunted down and exiled for political reasons, former Iraqi or Chechen, Egyptian or Palestinian leaders, often linked to the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. Khaled Mechaal, one of the main leaders of Hamas, resides there, and Doha is one of the most important financial supporters of the Gaza Strip, under Israeli blockade for nearly fifteen years.

Relations with the international Muslim Brotherhood have also fostered close relations with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. In the Libyan civil war, Qatar sided with Ankara, against Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s faction backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

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